By Nancy Vogl
From “Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul,” Health Communications, Inc., 2005
Used with Permission of the Author
Accept the pain, cherish the joys, resolve the regrets; then can come the best of benedictions – “If I had my life to live over, I’d do it all the same.”
Taking a big bite of his pancake at our favorite breakfast haunt, out of the clear blue, with syrup dripping out of the corner of his mouth, my five-year-old grandson, Tyler, said, “How come I don’t have a dad?”
The inevitable question had been asked, and I was the one left to answer it. Think! What do I say? In an important moment such as this one, when you need to think quickly and come up with the best possible response, it’s amazing how much can run through your head in a flash.
Tyler’s inquisitive face caused me to dredge up a lot of old memories – how challenging it had been raising my own three daughters alone. Countless times the girls would lament over not having a “normal” family, and I would go overboard trying to make up for their “lot in life” as children of a single parent. Adding to that, my relationship with the girls’ father was always strained, we never had enough money, and we were four girls trying to grow up together at the same time (yes, me included). Just trying to survive wreaked havoc on the kind of home life I wanted to provide for my little family. All of it amounted to some pretty tough times – emotionally, mentally and physically. Through the years, guilt was an emotion I often struggled with: from taking the initiative to leave the girls’ father to not being able to provide for them financially in a single-parent home as well as they might have been provided for in a two-parent home. I ached for them daily, knowing none of us had it easy.
Snapping back to the present and looking at the beautiful child sitting across from me, I relished the gift of his being. Tyler was the best of all bonuses bequeathed me for all the years I struggled as a single mom. Knowing the legacy of single motherhood that had been passed on to my oldest child, I desperately wanted my daughter and grandson to have more stability and freedom from the challenges of being in a single parent family than I had.
Tyler had posed a serious question, and I had to find the right answer for him, right then and there. Telling him that some children simply don’t have a mom or dad just wasn’t adequate, nor was it true in his case. Five-year-olds demand the truth. But should I tell him that his father is in prison? That Tyler’s presence here on Earth goes back to a time when my daughter was having a tough time in her own life? Would that imply that he was a mistake? No, no child is ever “a mistake,” never, ever, regardless of the circumstances. But how do you explain any of this to a little boy? And what would his mother want me to say in this instance?
Then I realized what Tyler really was asking: Am I complete? Do I matter? Am I loved? And then the words came to me. “Tyler, you don’t have a dad in your life right now, but you do have a mom who loves you double.” I repeated and emphasized, “Double,” adding, “and with Grandma loving you as much as I do, make that triple!”
Reflecting on my seemingly brilliant reply, it suddenly hit me that the guilt I had immersed myself in for years and years had been useless. I realized I did the best I could given my circumstances, and that, in my case, the girls fared far better with just a mom than they ever would have in a two-parent family fraught with constant fighting, turmoil and unhappiness. I loved them double, too.
Responding to my answer, Tyler looked at me with a face full of satisfaction and replied, “Well, I guess that makes me pretty lucky then, doesn’t it, Grandma?”